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China Dairy Market Development Strategy Outlined During D20

The annual growth of China's dairy market has slowed down, and the production has been declining. Liquid milk production has been decreasing since 2017. Sector consolidation and a rise in milk prices have offset the decrease in production volume. China's major dairy enterprises still show good growth. Value-added dairy like yoghurt, cheese, butter, and other high-quality dairy products for baking are expected to become more influential in China's dairy market.


On Nov. 27, 2019, China D20 Summit Meeting was held in Shanghai [1], the meeting mainly focused on the development of China's dairy industry in recent years. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MoA) issued the 2019 China Dairy Quality Report. Besides, relevant industry authorities made plans and forecasts for the future development of the dairy market.

Remark: "D20" refers to the top 20 Chinese dairy companies. The latest D20 enterprises alliance (as shown below) organized in the year 2018, which replaced the first list released in 2015.
Overall, China's major dairy companies maintained good growth, mainly attributable to two factors. The first contributing factor was consolidation in the market. In 2018 there were 587 domestic dairy processing enterprises above a designated scale, which was 71 less than the number in 2013. Price is another influential factor. In 2018, the average retail price of milk in China was 11.6 yuan/kg, up 19.6% in five years. For products like yoghurt and milk powder, retail prices rose an average of 13.4% and 15%, respectively, compared to 2013.

However, according to the 2019 China Dairy Quality Report, China's dairy output in 2018 was 26.87million tons, down 0.4% from 2013. Moreover, the growth rate of dairy consumption in China is slowing down. In the past decade, the average annual growth of dairy consumption is only 0.8kg, which is much lower than the 2kg seen in the previous decade.

Although dairy companies still enjoy high profits and steady market growth, the overall slowdown in dairy consumption is worrying. The existing problems can be summarized as follows:

Chinese Milk Lacks (奶剩): Supply and demand have become decoupled of late. Drinking liquid milk is by far the most popular method of dairy consumption in China. In the early part of the decade, demand for liquid milk was trending upwards, and forecasts were optimistic. Anticipating continued demand, most companies significantly scaled up their liquid milk production capacities. However, the expected growth in demand never materialized, and instead, there was a palpable contraction in consumption, which lead to overproduction. 

Failure to address evolving consumer preference (奶荒): China currently does not produce enough cheese, butter, and other niche value-added dairy products and ingredients to meet demand. For example, Chinese buyers and consumers are now more eager to get high-quality raw materials like creamers for teas and coffees, but the current market lacks high-grade products to meet this demand.
So, where are the next opportunities in the dairy market? Competition is fierce, and the market is saturated. Companies must offer more value to entice consumers, and across the board, we see a shift towards higher quality products. A2 milk, goat's milk, lactose-free, vitamin-fortified, or other innovative offerings are crucial to differentiate a product. Targeting emerging segments is another high-yield strategy, and companies can also consider meeting unmet demand in the value-added dairy segments.

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